Dallas Cowboys: Jay Ratliff

OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 7 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

The Cowboys signed Tyron Smith to a huge deal -- a $98 million extension -- that will keep him locked up for the next 10 seasons.

Smith
It’s hard to believe owner Jerry Jones has ever felt better about giving a player a contract. Smith is only 23, and he’s already one of the best left tackles in the game. His work-ethic is beyond reproach and he has emerged as a leader.

When Jones talks about Smith, he compares him to tight end Jason Witten, a consumate professional. Every long-term deal has some risk; the risk on Smith’s deal is negligible.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is going to miss 8-10 weeks with a fractured right foot, which pretty much ruins his rookie season.

In a perfect world, Lawrence -- a need pick -- would be finding a groove about the middle of the season and making an impact for the Cowboys. Now, he’s just going to be getting started right about then.

More important, he’s missing all of the teaching that takes place during training camp. During the season, most of the work is about preparing for the next opponent. The Cowboys drafted Lawrence to be a significant contributor this season. Now that is unlikely to happen.

The Cowboys have five receivers who have pretty much guaranteed spots on the roster, including rookie Devin Street.

But there is so much potential in the receivers group that the Cowboys could easily keep six. If they do, the best special teams player will make the team. And we’re not going to know who that is until the preseason games start because you can only simulate so much in training camp. The games are when players such as LaRon Byrd, Dezmon Briscoe and Chris Boyd separate themselves.

Key number 24.6

Imagine if the Cowboys didn’t have a league-leading 24.6 million counting against their salary cap for players no longer on the team, how good their cap situation would be. As it is, the Cowboys were about $11 million under the salary cap before they signed Smith to his mega deal. Still, they have the room to get team-friendly deals done with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, if they choose. DeMarcus Ware ($8.5 million), Jay Ratliff ($6.9 million) and Miles Austin ($2.7 million) comprise the biggest chunks of dead money.

Player to Watch: Jeremy Mincey

Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys have been intrigued by Mincey for several seasons, but had not been able to get a deal done. They finally have him, and they need the 30-year-old veteran to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. He has 20 sacks in 66 career games. His best season occurred in 2011 for Jacksonville, when he had eight sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. Dallas would take that with zero complaint.

Source: Leary won't face suspension

June, 27, 2014
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Dallas Cowboys starting left guard Ronald Leary will not be suspended by the NFL regarding a two-year old DWI charge, according to a source.

Kluwe
Leary
According to court documents, Leary was arrested in Irving, Texas, on Sept. 7, 2012, two days after the Cowboys' season opener at the New York Giants.

There has been numerous court dates postponed since the original arrest. Leary, who was a rookie practice squad player at the time of the arrest, didn't get promoted to the active roster until that December.

When an NFL player is charged with a DWI offense, he's placed into the league's substance abuse program. Once that player completes the program, the league considers the legal matter over based on the facts of any particular case.

Adisa Bakari, Leary's agent, and Cowboys' officials declined comment.

The Cowboys had three players arrested for DWI charges within a five-month period two years ago.

Following Leary's arrest, defensive lineman Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter in Irving, Texas, on Dec. 8, which resulted in the death of practice-squad teammate Jerry Brown.

On Jan. 22, 2013, defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff was charged with DWI in Grapevine, Texas, after hitting a tractor trailer.
Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was moved from jail to a treatment facility Sunday.

This is a positive step in Brent's recovery from his conviction on intoxication manslaughter charges following the car crash that resulted in the death of his best friend and teammate, Jerry Brown.

In January, Brent was sentenced to 180 days in jail and given 10 years' probation. He's scheduled to be released in late July. Cowboys officials have monitored Brent's recovery from afar and team executive Stephen Jones said the team is open to Brent returning to the field.

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The Cowboys have adopted this obligation to Brown's mother, Stacey Jackson, that they would support Brent because he needs football and wants to make amends for what he's done.

Brent is about to pay his debts from a legal standpoint to the state of Texas when he's released. Brent is determined to take care of Brown's toddler-aged daughter from a financial standpoint, and he sees football as the quickest way to do that.

All of that is understandable. In fact, it's admirable that the Cowboys don't seem concerned about possible public perception and believe they would be doing the right thing for everyone involved. They are standing by their man.

But looking at this from a football perspective, Brent is an average player who has five career starts. He was scheduled to start the Cincinnati Bengals game in 2012 because of an injury to Jeremiah Ratliff when he was involved in the car crash that killed his friend.

Brent showed a lack of judgment that night when he went out drinking 48 hours before a big game late in the season.

Life is about second chances and Brent deserves one. He should be given an opportunity to provide for Brown's daughter and for himself.

Brent is a good guy, but he made a terrible mistake.

But everybody needs a true fresh start here. Brent, the Brown family, the Cowboys. Let another team give him a chance to play along the defensive line and if Brent excels, great.

After Dallas beat the Bengals that afternoon in Cincinnati, the locker room was silent. There was no loud talking or slapping fives. In the postgame interview, coach Jason Garrett spoke to reporters in an emotional tone.

The emotion it took to win that game -- on top of losing Brown and Brent, who was in jail during the game, was a daunting task.

The Cowboys can't go back here and do it again.

With OL retooled, Cowboys look to fix DL

June, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The look of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has changed dramatically over the last three seasons.

In 2011, the Cowboys started the process of tearing down the line, moving on from Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. In 2012, they replaced Kyle Kosier.

But in stripping down the line, the Cowboys didn’t have ready-made replacements, with the exception of Tyron Smith, who was their first-round pick in 2011. Bill Nagy was an undersized guard and seventh-round pick. He started four games before getting hurt. The Cowboys recalled Montrae Holland to the roster and started him for 10 games. They relied on Derrick Dockery as well. At center, they went with undersized Phil Costa, who was undrafted in 2010. Kevin Kowalski, another undrafted player in 2011, was a key reserve.

This spring the Cowboys have a line with three first-round picks in Smith, now at left tackle, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Doug Free is the only holdover, moving from left tackle to right tackle.

This offseason the Cowboys have stripped down the defensive line. A year ago at this time, Jerry Jones called it the strength of the team. DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos. Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins. Jay Ratliff is with the Chicago Bears. Anthony Spencer is coming back from microfracture knee surgery.

“There is an analogy there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “A lot of veteran players, who were really good, of the same generation, and you have to transition. You have to get younger.”

Like the offensive line, the Cowboys didn’t have any ready-made replacements on the defensive line. Instead of going with late-round or undrafted players, the Cowboys are going with low-cost veterans with questions about health, consistency or both.

They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency. They kept Spencer on a one-year deal for short money. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh round.

“Defensive line is one of those positions you can’t have enough of those guys,” Garrett said. “Some of the best teams I’ve been around, some of the best teams we’ve completed against seem to have a boatload of these defensive linemen constantly coming at you … We’ve just got to keep them coming.”

Rebuilding is not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, but it sure can be viewed that way at Valley Ranch. The preferred word is retooling. The Cowboys have retooled the offensive line. They are in the process of retooling the defensive line.

There might be a question of quality, but there is no question of quantity.

“The best defensive lines I’ve been around are the ones that have ‘wave’ players,” Garrett said. “If you think back to the 90s when this team was winning Super Bowls there were eight legit defensive linemen rotating through games. Jim Jeffcoat playing 12 plays in a game. It’s ridiculous.”

Garrett went on to mention Leon Lett, Chad Hennings, Jimmie Jones, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Tony Casillas and Russell Maryland.

“If you can have some of those guys play 30 snaps instead of 60 snaps or 15 snaps instead of 30 snaps, you’re going to be so much better,” Garrett said.

Nick Hayden played a defensive-line high 821 snaps in 2013 after being unemployed in 2012. Hatcher played 747 in 15 games. George Selvie, who was signed during training camp, played 744. Six of his seven sacks came in the first nine games.

“We played a lot of snaps last year,” Selvie said. “Where the rotation helps is everybody can stay fresh. The new guys coming in, it will help a lot. It was rough by the end of the year. We were hurting. A lot of snaps like that takes a toll on your body.”

To carry out the offensive line analogy, Lawrence can be viewed like Smith, a premium pick at a premium spot. And the job is hardly close to being over. Melton, Okoye, Spencer, Selvie and Hayden all could be on one-year deals. Mincey signed a two-year deal. McClain is on a three-year deal.

“The games are won and lost up front and always will be lost up front,” Garrett said. “If you don’t have good offensive and defensive linemen your skill guys can’t do what they need to do. So we’ve tried to do that. We’ve kind of tried to restructure our fronts over the last few years and build the team the right way.”

The retooling is in its infant stages, like the offensive line in 2011. The Cowboys have to replenish the defensive line in 2015 and beyond with more premium picks the way they have the offensive line.

Cowboys hope numbers pay off on D-line

May, 12, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys entered 2014 knowing they had to drastically improve their defensive line.

A better defensive line means a better Cowboys defense.

Garrett
Garrett
"This defensive scheme has been at its best when they’ve had good defensive lines," coach Jason Garrett said. "Last year we felt the effects of the injuries we had. We were decimated up there, and it affected how we played defense all the way back through the linebackers and the secondary, and felt like we had to address it and get it right.”

The Cowboys played 20 different defensive linemen in 2013. Some of them practiced for the first time on a Wednesday and played on a Sunday. The defense never received a down from Tyrone Crawford and Jeremiah "Jay" Ratliff. They received 34 snaps from Anthony Spencer. DeMarcus Ware missed the first three games of his career and had just six sacks. Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks, missed one game.

Ware was cut and has signed with the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys made no real effort to keep Hatcher, who joined the Washington Redskins.

After the draft and college free agency, the Cowboys have 17 defensive linemen on the roster, and they might cut that number down soon. Last year, they did not draft a defensive lineman or add one as an undrafted free agent. Call this a market correction, if you want.

They signed Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton in free agency. They re-signed Spencer to a one-year deal. They gave up their third-round pick to draft Demarcus Lawrence in the second round. In the seventh round, they added Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop.

“The obvious is the obvious,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We were trying to emphasize defense in terms of numbers. We think that one of the ways to mitigate some of the big challenge that we have in our defensive front is numbers. Actual numbers on the field.”

Melton
The Cowboys love what George Selvie, a training camp pickup last summer, did in 2013 (seven sacks). They think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps. They love what Nick Hayden did as a starter in 2013, but they think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps.

While the Cowboys have thrown numbers at the D-line, they have not thrown cost. Melton carries the biggest cap number at $1.734 million.

But are the Cowboys better on the line? Spencer and Melton are not guaranteed to be ready for the start of training camp; both are recovering from knee injuries. McClain and Mincey have been complementary players. Selvie has to prove he is more than a one-year wonder. Crawford is coming off a torn Achilles. Lawrence will be making a big adjustment to the NFL.

A year ago at this time, on paper, Jones believed the Cowboys were stocked to make the switch to the 4-3. Then the season happened and the Cowboys were “a team that just flat was bankrupt in the defensive line last year,” Jones said. "We’re much better than what we played with."

Now, at least the Cowboys have given defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli options.

“We certainly know that is Rod’s goal, having those players biting at each other’s heels, fighting and competing," Jones said. "Our plan is to get numbers on the field.”

Cowboys pick Ken Bishop in 7th

May, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The pick: Ken Bishop, defensive tackle, Northern Illinois

My take: The Cowboys took their third defensive linemen of the draft in Bishop, who is 6 feet, 306 pounds. He fits as a run defender for a unit that struggled to stop the run too often in 2013. The Cowboys signed Terrell McClain as a free agent and have Nick Hayden, a starter last year, but Bishop had 70 tackles last season and was named a first-team All-MAC selection. He had 16.5 tackles for loss in two seasons with 3.5 sacks.

Notable: Bishop was among the national visitors the Cowboys hosted at Valley Ranch prior to the draft ... The last time the Cowboys took three defensive linemen in one draft was in 2005 when they took Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

May, 2, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss the possibilities of Eric Ebron or Mike Evans in the first round with different answers in the best-player available game.

Also mentioned is the mistake the Cowboys made last year in not selecting a defensive lineman, trading Morris Claiborne (not happening) and selecting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round.

If you have a question, send one to me via Twitter (@toddarcher) with the #cowboysmail hashtag. The second part of the mailbag will be delivered Saturday.

Away we go:
.

Does Kyle Orton's absence up need for QB?

April, 22, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Before people get carried away with Kyle Orton's absence from the Dallas Cowboys' offseason program, two factors need to be put out there: the workouts are voluntary and he missed just one day.

But the Cowboys should not look at Orton's absence as a one-day deal. They should take a worst-case scenario look at it. They need to determine whether Orton really wants to play football in 2014, despite what they heard from the player's agent and the fact Orton would be walking away from $3.25 million.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGiven some of the current uncertainty surrounding backup Kyle Orton, should the Cowboys look to select a quarterback in next month's draft?
It could be as simple as him not wanting to play anymore. He is the second-highest paid backup quarterback in the NFL behind Matt Moore ($4 million) of the Miami Dolphins, so money wouldn't seem to be an issue. He has been content in his role as a backup to Tony Romo, so opportunity wouldn't seem to be an issue.

Undoubtedly the Cowboys have spoken directly to Orton this offseason with the whispers of him thinking about retirement. What was discussed is not known. Did he tell them he would play or not play?

Orton holds the cards here because he does not have to show up until the mandatory June minicamp. If he does not report for that, then he would face fines up to close to $70,000. If he does report, what kind of condition is he in?

The Cowboys can trade him or release him. What kind of return would they get for a player who may or may not report to a new team? If they release him, then they would forfeit the right to pick up $3 million of the $5 million signing bonus he received in 2011. After the Jeremiah Ratliff fiasco, you would think the Cowboys would be more vigilant in these kinds of cases.

They could keep him and hope he arrives at the June minicamp in good shape and is ready to go when the team reports to Oxnard, Calif., for training camp. Hope, however, should not be their strategy.

Yet there is a more immediate question raised from Orton's absence. Does it push quarterback up the ladder when it comes to the draft?

The Cowboys signed Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal in the offseason with no signing bonus. They liked him coming into the 2012 draft, but not as much as the Cleveland Browns liked him. He had more interceptions than touchdown passes, but the Cowboys have taken a no-risk look at him.

What can they learn about Weeden before the draft? Not much. Coaches are not allowed on the field with the players until Phase 2 of the offseason program, which comes the week of the draft.

The Cowboys attended Aaron Murray's workout at Georgia last week. They talked with Jimmy Garoppolo and David Fales at the NFL scouting combine. They had a number of quarterbacks at their Dallas Day workouts last week in Garrett Gilbert, Casey Pachall and James Franklin, but they did not have a quarterback among their national visitors.

The Cowboys aren't exactly being held hostage by Orton, but his decision (or indecision) could go a long way in how they plan to attack the draft.

The Tyrone Crawford answer

March, 31, 2014
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Recently, Todd Archer wrote about what position does Tyrone Crawford, the young defensive lineman, play.

Is he an end?

A tackle?

Well, at the NFL owners meetings, I asked coach Jason Garrett what position Crawford plays and here's the answer: "That is a great question," Garrett said. "He has really good versatility. We are going to look at the landscape of our defensive line and see where he fits in. We really think he can play all four spots. We will use him in a couple of different spots certainly. We want to get him into a role, into a position where he is most comfortable and get his body right."

Crawford tore his Achilles tendon on the first day of training camp practices in a non-contact drill. The Cowboys were upset about losing Crawford because he gives them flexibility in the lineup.

As the 2013 season progressed, the defensive line endured numerous injuries to four projected starters and one of them, Jay Ratliff, didn't play a single game for the Cowboys. Anthony Spencer couldn't finish one training camp practice and played only one game in 2013 due to a knee injury.

What compounded matters is the team didn't draft a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft, electing to trade down and eventually using the pick on center Travis Frederick. While Frederick had a solid rookie season, the lack of depth along the defensive line was glaring.

The Cowboys are projecting Crawford to return this season and hope he either starts or becomes a productive member as a backup.

"He will probably be a bigger guy and weigh a little more if he plays inside," Garrett said. "He will be a lighter guy if he plays outside. Even if he plays outside we will probably use him inside in certain situations. We will make that determination here relatively soon. We have talked about this as a staff and with him a little bit. And depending who else we have in that landscape, we will probably pick a lane with him and see where we want to start with him and see how he adjusts to it."

Quantifying the Cowboys' injuries

March, 31, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Injuries played a big part in why the Dallas Cowboys finished 8-8 in 2013. So, how does one measure the impact of those injuries?

Football Outsiders quantifies just how much, and the result is a little surprising. In their Adjusted Games Lost metric, the Cowboys checked in at 67.9, which ranked 17th. In 2012, the Cowboys were 28th in Adjusted Games Lost (86.5).

The New York Giants were last at 144.6. The teams ranked Nos. 27-31 made the playoffs: San Diego Chargers (94.4), New England Patriots (99.9), Green Bay Packers (104.5) and Indianapolis Colts (110.3).

The Cowboys used 20 different defensive linemen in 2013, so it’s not surprising they were second in AGL among that position group at 26.0. The Chicago Bears were tops at 28.1 in large part because they lost Henry Melton, now a Cowboy, for 13 games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. What’s difficult to know is which players were counted. Jeremiah Ratliff was projected as a starter and did not play a game. Anthony Spencer played one game. DeMarcus Ware missed three. Jason Hatcher missed three. The projected top reserve, Tyrone Crawford, did not play a game because of a torn Achilles.

Here’s how Football Outsiders came up with the formula:

“With Football Outsiders' Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric, we are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles: (1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements and important situational reserves matter more than injuries to bench warmers; and (2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why Adjusted Games Lost is based not strictly on whether the player is active for the game or not, but instead is based on the player's listed status that week (IR/PUP, out, doubtful, questionable or probable).”

For the full story, click here. For the ESPN Insider story, click here Insider.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have put a lot of thought and time into the grievance they have filed against Jeremiah "Jay" Ratliff, but their chances of receiving salary-cap credit are not the best.

The Cowboys would have had a much better case against Ratliff if they had suspended him when he got into owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ face in the locker room after a win during the 2012 season.

Ratliff
It was the ultimate showing of conduct detrimental to the team.

Instead, Jones thought the relationship with Ratliff could be salvaged, even if it had soured with many people behind the scenes who had to deal with him on a day-to-day basis. There were hard feelings with the team’s athletic training staff for months. He was surly and hardly the kind of guy some portrayed him to be.

The Cowboys made it worse last offseason when they restructured his contract to gain salary-cap space. The move guaranteed Ratliff more money -- after he played in only six games in 2012 because of sports-hernia surgery -- and put the Cowboys in the hole against the salary cap in the future. He was supposed to be a fixture in the move from the 3-4 to the 4-3 as the vaunted 3-technique Rod Marinelli craved.

Except he never played a game in 2013. He did not pass the conditioning test at the start of training camp, and the Cowboys placed him on the physically unable to perform list. Ratliff was not pleased with the designation. Off to the side, he went through some pretty rigorous workouts with assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett, but the closest Ratliff would get to the field was in a walk-through.

At the final cuts, the Cowboys kept him on PUP, which knocked him out of the first six games. They hoped the extra time would help his rehab and get him back on the field. He did most of his rehab away from Valley Ranch, which was not the team’s standard operating procedure. When he showed up shortly before he was eligible to come off the PUP list, he wasn’t close to being ready to play.

The Cowboys decided then to part ways with Ratliff. He counts $6.9 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap on 2014. For now.

At the time of his release, Ratliff’s agent, Mark Slough, said his client would not play in 2013 but would focus on 2014 because the injury Ratliff suffered was much more severe than the typical sports hernia. A day later, Slough said Ratliff would be open to playing in 2013.

Eyebrows were raised, and the thoughts of a grievance were put in motion but were announced by Jones only on Monday.

Will the Cowboys get their money -- both in cap credit and cash? Maybe, but Jones acknowledged it will be a difficult road.

He missed a better chance to get it back in 2012.

Rod Marinelli a difference-maker

March, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- In Rod Marinelli, the Dallas Cowboys believe they have one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL.

He might be a pretty good recruiter, too.

The Cowboys' ability to land free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton was a lot about the contract, a lot about Melton possibly wanting to play at home and a lot about Marinelli.

Marinelli
Melton
"I'm excited to come back home and work with Rod [Marinelli] and get back to my Pro Bowl form," Melton told ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins.

Melton developed into a Pro Bowl defensive tackle under Marinelli with the Chicago Bears from 2010-12. Melton had 15.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl after a six-sack season in 2012. He also had 71 tackles and nine tackles for loss with Marinelli as his mentor.

He might talk softly, but Marinelli has a way of forging relationships with defensive linemen. He did it with Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He did it with Melton and Julius Peppers with the Bears. He did it with Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys were forced to use 20 defensive linemen in 2013 and were one game away from making the playoffs. Marinelli was able to make it work to a certain degree with guys such as George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Jarius Wynn, Corvey Irvin and Frank Kearse.

He never had Jay Ratliff or Tyrone Crawford. He had Anthony Spencer for 34 snaps in one game. He was without Ware for three games and Hatcher for one.

Melton becomes the third defensive linemen to join the Cowboys as a free agent. Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys last week.

Mincey was unable to meet face to face with Marinelli because of the coach’s schedule, but they were able to talk on the phone. Mincey was coached with the Jacksonville Jaguars by Joe Cullen, who coached under Marinelli with the Detroit Lions.

"Genuine and a believer," Mincey said last week. "He believes in what I believe: going out there and giving your all and trusting the process and seeing what happens. You never know what’s going to happen, especially with a bunch of guys who are hungry, who are dedicated and motivated for a larger purpose."

The job is not over. The Cowboys concluded a visit with Jared Allen on Tuesday, and the veteran could be the next one added to the Marinelli mix.

With Tony Romo, Cowboys not rebuilding

March, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Earlier today my guy, Calvin Watkins, brought you a post that says the Dallas Cowboys are rebuilding.

I don’t want to say Calvin is wrong, but, well, um, well, I don’t agree with that premise.

Romo
It’s not a rebuild the Cowboys are going through. And if you want to call it a rebuilding job, what exactly are they rebuilding from? They have won one playoff game since 1996. Teams that rebuild at least go to conference title games or Super Bowls -- and win Super Bowls.

I just don’t think you rebuild when you have a franchise quarterback that will turn 34 in April and is only in the second year of a six-year extension.

What the Cowboys have done the last few years -- and I wrote about it -- is re-tool. The departures of DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin and Jason Hatcher are more evidence that the Cowboys are re-tooling. With Tony Romo, the Cowboys still need to win now. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said as much at the NFL scouting combine.

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He doesn’t have time to wait three or four years to rebuild with Romo as his quarterback.

What the Cowboys are doing is changing their core. While Romo and Jason Witten are still the focal points of the team because of their play, status and production, the core of the team has moved on from guys like Ware, Jeremiah Ratliff, Austin, Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo, Bradie James and Terence Newman in recent years to newer players.

The core now is Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams and Barry Church. They would love guys like Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford and Gavin Escobar to join this list but they have not proven they can play yet.

The Cowboys have to maximize what they have left with Romo and Witten but not to the point where they are left in salary-cap shambles for when the “new guard” is in their prime.

Rebuilding, to me, is starting over. The Cowboys aren’t going to start over with Romo and Witten and they’re not exactly moving back to ground zero either.

What they are doing does not guarantee success or even something better than 8-8, but they are in the process of passing the torch, so to speak.

Cowboys are getting younger

March, 12, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- These are not your father's Dallas Cowboys, so to speak.

Once a team stocked with enough players to field a softball team in an over-30 league, the Cowboys are getting young.

With the releases of DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, the Cowboys have three starters over 30 years old in Tony Romo, who turns 34 next month, Jason Witten, who turns 32 in May and Doug Free, who turned 30 in January.

The only other thirty-somethings on the roster are backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who is 31, and long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who turns 33 on Thursday.

Not included on the list are free agents Anthony Spencer (30) and Jason Hatcher (31).

Ware turns 32 in July and Austin turns 30 in June.

The Cowboys have refused to use the word "rebuild" over the last three seasons but they have re-tooled their roster moving away from Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo on the offensive line and Ware, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman on the defensive line.

They have made the decision to not restructure the contracts of Witten and Brandon Carr, who turns 28 in May, unless absolutely necessary so they do not push more money into the salary cap in future years.

For years people have called the NFL a young man's game. The Cowboys are moving to a younger man's team.

Sean Lee now the face of Cowboys' D

March, 12, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Two weeks ago, Cowboys team doctors cleared Sean Lee for full offseason football activities following the neck injury that knocked him out of most of the final four games in 2013.

That’s a good thing, because with the release of DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday, Lee will have to bear the weight of being the face of the Cowboys' defense.

From just about the day Ware arrived in 2005 as a first-round pick through 2012, he was the Cowboys' best player on offense or defense. He could do -- and probably will show people this year he still can do -- anything he wanted.

[+] EnlargeSean Lee
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty ImagesSean Lee has proven to be a playmaker, but staying healthy has been a challenge.
His 117 career sacks are a franchise record. He came up a half-sack short in 2011 of becoming the first player in NFL history with two 20-sack seasons. If anything, the Cowboys are choosing to cut ties with a player a year too early as opposed to a year too late with Ware.

It is their right, and their salary-cap woes made the decision even easier.

But now Lee will be the face of the defense.

The Cowboys signed him to a six-year extension worth $42 million last summer that could accelerate to $51 million if he can stay healthy.

Those last five words shadow Lee the way Ware shadowed quarterbacks. He missed five games in 2013 with hamstring and neck injuries. He missed 10 games in 2012 with a serious toe injury. He missed one game in 2011 with a dislocated wrist but played the bulk of the season with it wrapped up like a club. He missed two games as a rookie in 2010.

Lee is everything that coach Jason Garrett wants in a player. He is tough, accountable, unselfish and talented. He knows the score. He knows he has to stay on the field for the Cowboys to have a chance to make the playoffs.

He can change games like Ware can, just in different ways. He has 11 interceptions in his career, two returned for touchdowns. He is a tackling machine. He is the brains of a defense. He can make sure other defenders are lined up in the correct spot. He can cover up their mistakes, too.

Ware could (can?) change games with his burst off the line of scrimmage and by pressuring the quarterback. He could (can?) do things athletically that men his size should not be able to do. He was (is?) the perfect combination of speed and power.

For nine seasons with the Cowboys, nobody did it better than Ware. He helped Greg Ellis, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher reach the Pro Bowl because he drew so much attention from offenses.

Tuesday marked the end of an era with the release of Ware and the beginning of another in a way with Lee.

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